KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Will Spradling had 16 points and five assists, including one that set up Shane Southwell’s 3-pointer in the closing minutes, and Kansas State beat No. 8 Florida 67-61 on Saturday night.
Rodney McGruder added 13 points and Jordan Henriquez had nine points and five blocks for the Wildcats (9-2), who watched a 10-point halftime lead evaporate before clamping down against one of the nation’s top defensive teams and then pulling away in the final minutes.
Patric Young had 19 points for the Gators (8-2), including two with just over 2 minutes left that got them within 58-55. But that’s when Southwell knocked down his 3 from the corner, and McGruder made two free throws with 1:05 left to create some breathing room.
Kansas State held on from the foul line for its first regular-season, non-conference win over a top 10 team since defeating No. 8 Minnesota on Dec. 21, 1981.
Kenny Boynton and Scott Wilbekin scored 11 each for the Gators, whose only other loss came at then-No. 8 Arizona. Leading scorer Mike Rosario was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The Wildcats have been struggling in new coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense, and it showed in sloppy, lackluster losses to No. 2 Michigan and No. 14 Gonzaga. But they finally managed to get it clicking just enough against one of the nation’s premier defenses.
Still, it was defense that ruled this one from the start.
Kansas State built an early lead by turning over Florida twice in the opening minutes, and the Gators responded with a 9-2 surge in which they twice scored off turnovers in transition.
Kansas State eventually settled down on offense, and that proved to be the difference in the first half. Spradling began to hit from the perimeter, 6-foot-9 sophomore Thomas Gipson went toe-to-toe with the 6-9 Young in the paint and the Wildcats slowly built a lead.
McGruder’s basket with just under 5 minutes left made it 26-19, and after the Gators’ Michael Frazier curled in a 3-pointer for his only basket, Kansas State rattled off seven more points that helped it take a 33-23 lead into the break.
The lead was built on the Wildcats out-defending the nation’s No. 1 defense.
Florida shot just 30.8 percent (8 of 26) from the field and was 2 of 9 from beyond the arc, and even struggled at the foul line, where the Gators were 5 of 9. They didn’t get many second chances, either, with the Wildcats owning the glass on both ends of the floor.
Kansas State’s Achilles’ heel has been the start of the second half, though.
It happened to the Wildcats again.
The Gators scored on their first six trips down the floor and put together a 12-3 run that allowed them to wipe out almost the entire deficit. Boynton’s 3 with 13:10 left drew them even at 41-all, the closest they’d been since leading 19-17 midway through the first half.
But every time Florida threw a haymaker, Kansas State had a counter-punch.
Rosario’s first basket, a 3-pointer with 10:42 left, was matched by McGruder’s jumper. A bucket by Wilbekin was matched by a 3-pointer from Kansas State’s Martavious Irving, and slowly the Wildcats extended the lead back to 57-47 with 5:20 left.
Things were going so well for Kansas State that Henriquez, who had been 2 for 19 from the foul line, stepped up and calmly knocked down four straight free throws.
Kansas State wound up shooting 41.7 percent from the field against a team that had been holding opponents to 49.6 points per game. The Wildcats also ended up with a 36-27 advantage on the glass and committed just 10 turnovers against the Gators’ intense man-to-man defense.
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